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Women's History Month | Living legend Oksana Masters breaks Paralympic records

In the 2022 Beijing Paralympics, Oksana Masters became the most decorated U.S. Winter Paralympian of all time.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Oksana Masters is an accomplished multi-sport U.S. Paralympian.

Masters was born in 1989 in Ukraine. Her legs were unable to carry a lot of weight.

"She probably was born to a mother who had radiation poisoning due to Chernobyl," Heather Gotlib, with the Frazier History Museum, said. "So likely that nuclear disaster resulted in her having some issues with not having weight-bearing bones in her legs."

Oksana spent several years of her childhood in orphanages. 

“They were all kinds of awful things that happened," Gotlib said. "Oksana said she had trouble sleeping at night when she got back to America because of all kinds of horrible things that happen at night."

After two years of delays, she was adopted by an American professor, Gay Masters. 

"She saw a picture of this little girl who was wearing this polka dot dress and she was standing there smiling with the spark in her eye. And she said 'that's my child,'" Gotlib said. 

Credit: AP
Gold medalist Oksana Masters of the U.S. poses with a mascot doll during a ceremony for the women's individual sitting event of para biathlon at the 2022 Winter Paralympics, Friday, March 11, 2022, in Zhangjiakou, China. (AP Photo/Shuji Kajiyama)

After arriving in the United States, Oksana began corrective surgeries on her legs, which doctors eventually had to amputate.

Her family moved to Louisville, where she attended Atherton High School. 

“Louisville for Oksana was definitely the place where she kind of figured out who she was and came into herself," Gotlib said. “The opportunities there, going to school in Louisville, and seeing all the different sports that were available to her, probably opened a lot of doors and I think that’s very integral to her story.”

As a young teenager, her mother encouraged her to take up adaptive rowing.

"She said 'I don't wanna do a sport that's adaptive,' but her mother said 'just try this for me' and she fell in love with it," Gotlib said. 

Gotlib said that by 2012 Oksana was competing in the London Olympic games and she was winning medals. 

"She, unfortunately, got an injury after that and that's when she turned to cycling," Gotlib said. "And she excelled just the same way she did with rowing."

Credit: AP
Oksana Masters, of the United States, celebrates after wining at Women's H5 Road Race at the Fuji International Speedway at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

Gotlib said Masters has become an icon of Paralympic athletics, participating in every Paralympic Games since 2012. 

"Making things look easy is one thing, but you don’t know the work that goes into making these things look so easy," Gotlib said. 

In Bejing this year, Masters made the podium in every Paralympic event she competed in and took home the title of most decorated U.S. Winter Paralympian of all time.

Masters has won 17 Paralympic medals and competed in six Paralympic games.

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